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Ashe County Middle School one of two state schools to earn national honor

Originally published: Mar. 21, 2013
Last modified: Mar. 21, 2013

Adam Orr

On March 4, Ashe County Middle School was recognized for becoming just the second school in North Carolina to earn ‘School to Watch’ re-designation for the third time, joining Hendersonville’s Rugby Middle School.

"This is a significant honor,” Ashe County Middle School and Technical Teacher Penny Barker said. “I strongly encouraged (the) application for re-designation be submitted. This is important to the middle schools and we could not let re-designation pass us by, as everyone at ACMS has worked very hard to earn and retain this high education standing.”

Launched in 2002, the ‘School to Watch’ initiative is a way to understand and learn from high-performing middle schools across the country, and help educators bring those lessons back to their own districts.

“Through the state Schools to Watch initiative, schools are identified across the United States that are well on their way to meeting the criteria for high performance,” according to information provided by Middle Grades Forum.

Schools to Watch are considered academically excellent and developmentally responsive - which means they respond to the unique developmental needs of early adolescence - and are democratic and fair, giving every student the chance to learn from high quality teachers.

“To achieve this level of performance, high-performing schools establish norms, structures and organizational arrangements to support and sustain their trajectory toward excellence,” according to Middle Grades Forum. “They have a sense of purpose that drives every facet of practice and decision making.”

Ashe County Middle School first earned STW status in 2003, and was re-designated in 2006, 2009 and last year, and spanning the tenure of principals Nancy Reeves, Bobby Ashley and most recently Earl Pennington, according to Barker.

“Meeting STW criteria takes time, effort and a standard of excellence among all members of the school, while meeting the unique needs of all students,” said Barker, who has had the opportunity to visit multiple STW schools as a member of the North Carolina Middle School Association Board of Directors. “I have shared in the joy of a turnaround school's third, tiring, attempt to finally receive recognition; the excitement of a principal sprinting out of the boardroom, following the designation announcement ... and I have experienced the disappointment when a school did not make it their first time and, worse, didn’t make re-designation.”

The achievement was recognized by Ashe County Board of Education during its March 4 meeting, as superintendent of Ashe County Schools Donnie Walker presented a plaque to ACMS Principal Earl Pennington. ACMS will have its chance to earn STW re-designation for the fourth time in 2015.

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.